I don't write about basketball very often. Never, really. I guess I write about UVa hoops occasionally, but that's generally less about basketball than it is about my alma mater, if that makes sense. Today, I'm thinking about basketball, and the reason I'm thinking about basketball is that LeBron James is returning to Cleveland.
This LeBron free agent drama has been fascinating to watch, but I can't say I've been following it closely. Mostly, I've been keeping up with the latest news via Twitter, but that's as far as it has gone. Now that the decision has been made, I can't get over how good this story is. So many interesting angles, and it concludes with the return of the prodigal son to the Sixth City.
I don't care about the Cleveland Cavaliers. Never have. Growing up, I picked a favorite team almost at random, since there were no NBA franchises within spitting distance of my home. I chose the 76ers, almost exclusively because Julius Erving played for them. You might remember Dr. J. Even on the downside of his career, he appealed to an 8-year old boy.
Over the years, the Sixers haven't exactly been the model NBA franchise, but they have allowed me to watch and admire the talents of Erving, Charles Barkley (surprisingly, I can't find an image online of the Barkley poster that adorned my wall as a teenager), and Allen Iverson. If the Cavaliers had had some dynamic player back then (sorry, Ron Brewer), I suppose it's possible that I would have decided to root for Cleveland. I think my son is about to do exactly that. And I'm okay with that.
I like superstars. In every sport. Part of the joy I get from watching sports -- and between the Reds and UVa, sometimes joy is difficult to come by -- is from watching the greatest players in the game ply their trade. I never joined the chorus of criticism of Barry Bonds back in the day; instead, I was mesmerized by his baseball talent. In soccer, Luis Suarez bites everyone in his way and is a bit of a lunatic, in general, but he's a genius on the pitch and I'll watch him every chance I get.
LeBron doesn't fit into that same mold, but he has certainly been (unfairly) cast in the role of a villain since "The Decision." I'm not going to try to make the case that the way James made the decision to take his "talents to South Beach" was anything less than a PR disaster, but it has been absurd to see how everyone decided they hated LeBron James all of a sudden. For the last four years, most everyone has reveled in the LeBron jokes and rooted against him at every turn.
For his part, LeBron just won some MVPs and some championships and cemented his place in basketball history. He also became as a billion-dollar industry. His move back to Cleveland enhances that brand name to an almost unimaginable degree. I think the days of LeBron as villain are over; he's now going to be a hero and a global icon on a scale that we haven't seen since Michael Jordan.
It will be amusing to see NBA fans who were previously hostile to LBJ twist and turn to praise him for "coming home." Not me. I've always been in awe of his talent, whether they were displayed in the midwest or South Beach. I'll watch more Cleveland games this year than ever before probably, and I'll never watch the Heat as often or with as much interest. That's because LeBron is the greatest player on earth and I'm not ashamed to follow him wherever he goes. I love watching the greats.
Michael Jordan was never my favorite player (Erving/Barkley, remember?), but there is something that I used to say about MJ that applies to LeBron, as well. Every single time I watched MJ play, he did something that made my jaw drop. Maybe it was a crossover, or a pass, or a dunk, but you always got your money's worth with MJ. Same with LeBron. I don't think I can say that about any other basketball player in my lifetime. Other than Spencer Hawes, perhaps.
I'm very interested in the unorthodox rebuilding job that GM Sam Hinkie is doing in Philadelphia. Can't wait to see how that turns out, and I'll keep watching the Sixers while the building process continues. After Cleveland drafted UVa great Joe Harris a couple of weeks ago, I figured I'd be watching more Cavaliers basketball this year than before. That's a certainty now.